This season so far has seemed like a big step forward for this Arsenal squad, despite only being three points better off than at this stage last season. Of course there has still been some worrying results; the Monaco, Tottenham and Southampton performances spring to mind as well as the home defeat to Manchester United earlier in the season.
However there has been a marked improvement in the bigger games that we suffered so much in last season. We haven’t been blown away by any teams away from home; against Liverpool and Chelsea last season we were out of the game after just 20 minutes.
In the second half of the season there as been resilience about the squad, in away games against Newcastle, Burnley and Crystal Palace we have seen the team see out narrow leads while experiencing a lot of pressure.
There has been room for the usual Wenger flair, destroying Liverpool at home was a great example of a team expressing its confidence after a fantastic run of results.
Last months game at home to Chelsea was a big chance to really show things had changed for the better. Unfortunately the team couldn’t break down Mourinho’s usual brand of (exciting) football and it ended in a goalless stalemate. Chances were few and far between for the Gunners but we did fashion a couple of openings and with some better finishing Arsene Wenger would have finally had a victory over Mourinho.
In past seasons we would have been picked off on the break and while Chelsea had a number of chances there was only a couple of clear cut opportunities they created, Ramires and Oscar failing to capitalize while clean through on goal.
You often see this pattern of play when Chelsea play Arsenal recently; the Gunners dominate possession while Chelsea wait patiently and pick them off on the break. We seemed to be more sensible and mature while approaching the game.
Despite some attacking substitutions towards to the end of the match we didn’t lose our heads and go all out for the win leaving ourselves exposed at the back; in the end a point was a good result and didn’t want to lose that. It was a missed opportunity to lay down a marker for next season as title contenders. With the right additions in the summer there is no doubt that this is a very realistic target.
A similar point can be made about the victory at Hull on Monday night, previous Arsenal teams would have been intimidated by Hull’s physical approach to the game.A few players were on the end of some unsavoury challenges from Steve Bruce’s team; we were able to stand up to this and pick them off with some fantastic football to kill the game by half time.
That has been one of the most pleasing things this season that, with the exception of Stoke away, no team has really been able to kick us off the park like we’ve seen so many times in recent years.
It will be a fascinating campaign next year, Chelsea will no doubt get stronger with the Manchester clubs looking to drastically improve on their campaigns. There will be a risk of being left behind if there the right personnel aren’t brought in.
It is strange how this season feels like such a big improvement considering how long we spent at the top of the league in 2013-14 but the way we fell away towards the end of the season left us looking like a million miles away from serious title contenders.
This time around we look to be moving in a different direction and another FA Cup victory will no doubt help us on our way.